The European Commission has launched three investigations into suspected breach of the competition rules by companies in the consumer electronics, videogames and hotel sectors.  

The consumer electronics and videogames probes come out of the Commission’s e-commerce sector inquiry, launched in May 2015 amidst concerns that businesses may be seeking to restrict online sales with a view to limiting price competition and cross-border trade. The Commission is yet to publish its final report in the e-commerce sector inquiry, but the preliminary report published last September made very clear that the Commission considers the competition rules are being broken and that enforcement action would follow. It is common for a sector inquiry to result in enforcement action, and these two probes might not be the only ones we see coming out of the e-commerce sector inquiry.

The hotels probe results from customer complaints received by the Commission. It seems to be unrelated to the hotel online booking investigations carried out by several member states.

For many years now, enforcement in relation to pricing and parallel trade restrictions has been left to the national competition authorities. Whilst we have seen an increase in the levels of enforcement across several Member States, it has been patchy and inconsistent. This is not helped by the fact that the Commission’s guidelines on ‘vertical’ restrictions are now 7 years old and do not fully address the increasingly important new sales channels and technologies. These probes by the Commission may represent the first step towards a more harmonised approach. Additionally, it would be helpful to see clearer guidance from the Commission so that businesses can ensure they stay on the right side of the line.

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